Wednesday, May 30, 2012

naughty zombies - give me your soul

Just programming Shadowplay for this coming Sunday ... and thought I'd play Naughty Zombies, a (sadly defunct) deathrock band from Spain - this is my favourite song of theirs ;)

Monday, May 28, 2012

mardi nowak - tapestry artist q + a

After the gorgeous Mardi Nowak asked if she could interview me for her blog, I started thinking about all the questions that I've been wanting to ask her, as well as other tapestry artists who inspire me - but from a beginner's point of view.

I started documenting my tapestry studies here from the beginning because at the time I couldn't find anyone else doing so. I now try to encourage other students to do the same, because this is how we all learn! I spend a lot of time stalking reading through other artists' blogs, and I have learnt so much from them, as well as refining my own techniques due to their wise advice.

So without further ado, my first 'interview' is, rather fittingly, Miss Mardi Nowak herself! I was excited to find another tapestry artist in their 30s, which is pretty rare! Her work is fresh, modern and non-traditional, and her in-your-face use of colour attracted me instantly ;)


What made you want to learn tapestry weaving?
A bit of a long story! I grew up in a very textile orientated family. My parents owned a Singer Sewing Machine store, my father was a sewing machine mechanic and bootmaker. My mum was a pattern maker and sewing teacher and I had a grandfather who was a milliner. It was no surprise that I was going to end up doing something textile related.

I studied art throughout high school and VCE. The whole time I was also involved in gallery work and curating (my now day job!). I loved textiles and fashion but the artworld was where my heart was. I applied to many universities to major in either printmaking or painting. It was at Monash University that I happened to meet Kate Derum, who looked at my folio, chatted to me and recruited me to tapestry with the statement "if you really hate it after a semester, I can change you to another major". Always up for a challenge and for learning new things I took on a Bachelor of Fine Art, majoring in tapestry and have been making art this way ever since!

Kate went on to mentor me throughout my BFA and Honours year as well as supervised my Masters by research project as well.

Why tapestry? Like most contemporary tapestry artists, I love being part of such a old and strong tradition. Having parents who had skills like they did, I love being able to keep these skills alive but in a new and current context. In terms of the way that I work as an artist, tapestry works for me. It's about colour (in the way you mix the weft), shape and texture. These have always been important elements to my work aesthetically. I also love being able to create large works and roll them up for shipping and storage!

Mardi Nowak - 'I Love You, Me Too'
How did you learn?
I've completed a Bachelor of Fine Art (Tapestry), an Honours year and my Masters of Fine Art by Research. Basically that was 6 years full time of making art! I had a fantastic teacher in Kate Derum who really encouraged me to look beyond tapestry and to keep my work in a contemporary critical art context. It is always about the art first, then tapestry second for me.

My tapestry practice has been about trial and error and looking at different ways of interpreting something. My work in my undergraduate years was quite diverse while I learnt how to weave but also to learn what my visual language was. This has been refined over and over to what I produce now. I'll be refining this forever!

How long did it take for you to be confident with the techniques?
I think after my first year of study, I made the decision to go BIG! Although a brave decision, working on such a large scale (about 2 metres by 1 metre) really made me work hard. I had to work consistently to finish the works for assessment. From this I learnt how long weaving really takes as well as how the warps and my style of weaving works along on a large work. I think this 'jump into the deep end' made me confident about my work and I was supported greatly by my lecturers and other peers too. What can I say? I love a challenge!

I also think that exhibiting my work throughout my studies built my confidence with the work too. It really helps to sort out what you are doing and why and how you sit in a critical art context too.

Mardi Nowak - 'Onto The Shadow'
What is your preferred warp sett?
I mostly weave on an 18 gauge warp with about 9-10 warps set in an inch or 4cm. (I think this is right? When I warp up I put one warp on the line, 4 in between, another on the line - I place my lines at 4cm spaces.)

I generally use 7 threads to my weft for this setting.

What is your favourite weft material?
I mostly use a combination of wool, cotton and linen - sometimes silk. I rarely use just wool as I find it a bit too squishy for my liking. The cotton and linen gives a much harder surface and finish to the tapestry. I also swear by using a bobbin winder to apply the weft to my bobbins. Since using one over the last 9-10 years, I've found a difference in the surface. It gives a smoother surface and probably a better tension for me.

What is your preferred method of finishing and presenting your work?
My methods change according to the tapestry size, where it is going etc. Mostly for the large works I plait back the warp (I don't ever create a woven hem) and hand sew a wide strip of acid and dye free fabric around the edge. This captures the warps inside the fabric and any loose weft ends that may poke out the sides. I sew Velcro to the top fabric screen that attaches to a thin piece of wood or metal that then attaches to the wall.

For smaller works I (under 40cm) I cover a piece of wood the same size of the tapestry with acid and dye free fabric and then hand sew the tapestry to the fabric. This creates a little tile to hang on the wall. Being a curator as well, I'm very aware of being able to remove any of the framing elements from the tapestry easily if need be.

Back of one of Mardi's small tapestries

Detail of how Mardi has stitched the piece onto the fabric
I rarely put tapestry behind glass. This is a personal preference and mostly because I like to see the texture of the work. Also, framing works is expensive and difficult to store, especially for large works!

Are there any aspects of tapestry that you have to pay attention to every time you weave?
I think for any weaver you pay attention to the tension and the sides of the work. I also sew up slits as I go to assist with my tension. I try to keep an eye on how the work is looking as a whole as I'm weaving and I have been known to change elements half way through to give a more balance work aesthetically. Nothing is set in stone for me!

How did you create your own ‘visual language’?
I think that it is about being confident with your work and what inspires you and what you have to say. For me, my language developed into making work and images that are inspired by my everyday world. Don't get me wrong, my work has changed over the years but I think in the last 10 years, people would be able to identify my work as mine from particular features.

I often use text or letters in my work but it is always figurative too. Lately I've been experimenting with some smaller works but trying to approach them as I approach the large works. It is very trial and error but has been a good way to loosen up too.

Mardi Nowak - 'Stasi'
Is there any advice that you’d like to give to beginners?
Oh, there are so many things! Here are some key points that I think are important.

Setting up the loom and warp - take care to do it properly. I've been known to rush and stuff it up and regret it while weaving. It's like preparing a canvas, start off with a good base.

Look at the best way to weave the work - is the image better on the side for smoother lines? Also, work out what works for you best - all weavers work differently.

Don't be too precious! I never un-weave anything! I take on the motto that it is better to complete the work and then learn from an error to take forever reworking it. Take the learnings into the next work. Often we look and think we could of interpreted the image better but we all learn by trial and error.

Keep your themes and concepts strong. Just because something is woven into tapestry (and yes, I KNOW it takes a long time!) doesn't mean that it is good art. Just like painting, sculpture etc... there is good and poor works.  If you have a good concept and theme, the tapestry will always be good.

Experiment to work out your own language and style. It takes time, don't beat yourself up on it! Look to other artworks, artists, exhibitions, music, life around you. Find your inspiration in a bunch of things - not just tapestry.

And finally, keep good posture and work methods! I've had back and muscle issues over the years and it is important to keep healthy work techniques.
Good light, chairs etc and remember to stretch!

Where can we find out more about your work?
I have a blog where I talk about my work, what's inspiring me, what I'm doing etc. I think everything is quite inter-related. I also use my blog as a visual diary of sorts, to capture things that may influence my work or an idea to work on later. I'm at

There are links on there to upcoming exhibitions and all of that too!

I also have a solo exhibition planned in Melbourne for early 2013 if people want to see the works in the flesh!


Thank you so much Mardi - you are definitely the rock star of the tapestry world!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

i'm loving right now:

Having a kitteh on my lap when it's cold ... not so easy to stitch, but we're figuring it out (ie. KITTEH WON'T MOVE!)

My new Heavy Red hoodie - expensive, but so worth it ...

Lacrima Necromanzia - gawd, I love this album so much!!!

Snuggly cowls - seriously the BEST thing in cold weather (excuse my makeup-less face - eek!)

What are YOU loving right now?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

wool haul!

We went to one of my favourite places this morning - Bellatextiles!  Bella is gorgeous - Anita thinks that we're very similar, and to be honest, I'd love to be just like Bella in 20 years' time ;)

Bella has a studio and shop in a very tucked-away block in Seaview Downs, South Australia.  She owns quite a few floor looms, and she tells us that she also has one at home (which is nearby) in case she feels like weaving in the middle of the night ;)  At the moment she's madly weaving for the next Bowerbird Bazaar design fair in July.  She sells a lot of Ashford products in her shop, as well as other wools for spinning, weaving and knitting.

Today was fabulous, as we met an elderly couple who were selling mohair/alpaca wool that the gentleman had spun!  It was so gorgeous and soft that I just had to buy a skein - spun by Ted, hand-painted by Bella:

I also buy my dread wool from there - my next colours are royal blue and hot pink.  I already have hot pink leftover, so wanted some blue - I found this gorgeous Ashford merino/silk blend, which will probably be awful to felt into dreads ... but it's so beautiful!  (there's Frankie on the left, trying to get into the bag :P)

I also needed some black wool for dreads, and also found some black 2 ply for tapestry weaving!  Much cheaper than getting the small cones from ATW, since I have so much black in my large design ;)

Anita found some gorgeous hand-painted yarn for socks, and maybe a jumper for Lily - the wool is from a local farm who have Finnsheep.

And she also bought Lily a cool hat that Bella had woven - yes, it's woven on a rigid heddle loom!  Instead of hiding the warp ends, she left them hanging out, kinda like a mohawk hat!

And last but not least, Anita bought a very old 80s knitting book - bad hairdos aside, it's a very handy reference book!

Though I think that Anita could get away with the bat-sleeved jumper on the right ;)

PHEW - what a haul! 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

random wednesday thoughts

Aaaah, I'm home today - getting started on my first 2D Design assessment!  No more days off until we move into our new house ... but more about that another time ;)

I finished Anita's 'seaside cowl' - even though she doesn't *look* excited, she loves it!  (well, I did snap this pic on the way to work on Monday :P)

And here is the progress on my Threefold Designs banner:

OK, better start reading through my homework!  Have a great Wednesday, everyone ;)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

YES! Assessment 3 design finished

OK, so sampler is now finished:

I'm VERY pleased with how it turned out - the edges were pretty good! I just have to keep that up for a good 72cm in the final piece ;) Here's the final design - sorry it's hard to see, what with dodgy cutting and pasting of photocopies, sticky tape and quick colouring-in with oil pastels! Thank you Mary for your advice - as you can see, it's now landscape ;)

And here's the cartoon:

My lecturer may come back with lots of suggested changes ... but I'll warp up my loom soon and get started anyway. At first I was concerned that the design was too minimalist, since there is a lot of areas of black ... but Anita seemed to think it was bordering on being too busy! It's so hard to get that balance just right, especially for a large-format piece.

I've learnt a very valuable lesson from the sampler too - I will definitely have to utilise the 'lazy line' technique on the large areas of black to avoid the warps pulling in ;)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

cowl finished!

My incredibly easy cowl is now finished!  I'm wearing it right now - it's very warm, and perfect for around the house as it doesn't dangle down and tempt kittehs like a scarf does ;)

Now believe me, I'm a terrible knitter ... but this one is so EASY!  If you want to give it a go, the pattern is HERE ;)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

violet stigmata - abyss

Since I've been slack in photographing my finished tapestry sampler, I'll leave you with the fantastic goth/deathrock track 'Abyss' by Violet Stigmata (RIP Nico).

Monday, May 7, 2012

cowls, not cows!

Aahhh, this weather is definitely knitting weather!   Pity my knitting skills are pretty dodgy, huh?   I've been watching Anita knitting for the last month or so, and have really felt like knitting.  

I learnt how to knit on circular needles back in the mid 90s, and enjoyed it immensely, even though I stuffed up nearly every project ;)   So I decided I'd knit myself a scarf to get it out of my system, but browsing on the internet unearthed some rather fabulous cowl patterns.  Cowls are a good idea because you can wear them around the house without them coming undone and getting caught in things ... like kitty claws, for example!

Anyway, I decided to knit the first cowl for Anita, since she's currently knitting me a jumper.  She'd bought this fantastic hand-dyed wool from Port Fairy, and was wondering what to do with it:

This will be the Garter Stitch Cowl - very easy, even for me!

And I bought this wool for myself:

It's Kochoran 66 yarn, from Yay For Yarn (who have excellent customer service!).

Anyway, I've decided to go on to Ravelry so I can document the details - if you're on there, please friend me!  There also seems to be tapestry weaving groups, which I will explore further when I have a chance ;)

Why is it that time-poor people tend to pick up MORE things to do?   *sigh*

Saturday, May 5, 2012

sampler progress

OK, I've taken some progress pics of the sampler for my Goth/Deathrock Culture tapestry.

Firstly, I'm trying a new method of keeping control of the edges - I just can't remember where I read about it, it may have been a tapestry yahoo group ??   I'm using a double warp on the edges ... so we'll see how that goes!

I've decided to weave the face for my sampler, since I haven't really tried that before ... I went a bit crazy last weekend and did HOURS of work - here are the progress shots (excuse the bad lighting!):

And after today's hours of weaving:

I've been using this sampler to practice vertical lines, which I've always struggled with - rather than sew them on afterwards, I'd prefer to weave them in. More weaving tomorrow! ;)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

skull design available as a pattern!

OK, I'm doubling up here with my 'official' website ... but I thought I'd let you know that my Skull design is now available as a stand-alone pdf pattern for USD $20!

I'm going to have as many of my designs available as pdf patterns as I can (including the bookmark kits) so I can actually make some money out of these things!! I just have to find DMC stranded cotton equivalents for the colours - though using the Australian Tapestry Workshop yarn is the best option ;)

All the patterns are available HERE!